The Amazon Rainforest Fires: Where Are We Now?

The Amazon Rainforest is still burning weeks after it the full extent of the situation was realised. Astronauts on the International Space Station and NASA satellites which have been tracking the inferno have confirmed that it is the most active fire in Brazil since 2010. The National Institute for Space Research has recorded more than 74,000 fires so far this year. Whilst it is impossible to pinpoint exactly when this current catastrophe began, there have been more than 9,500 separate fires since August 15th alone.

Forest fires are not uncommon. Brazil’s environmental minister Ricardo Salles has claimed that these fires have been caused by the unusual weather conditions that have hit the country, such as increased heat, wind and a lack of rain. He later changed his stance and admitted that whilst some were the product of these unpredictable conditions, some of the fires were intentional. Either way, this didn’t stop him from being booed and heckled as he walked on stage at the Latin America and Caribbean Climate week in the city of Salvador, an event with celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Ariana Grande in attendance. An opposition senator in Brazil is even reportedly planning on seeking his impeachment through Brazil’s supreme court.

But why would some of the fires have been started deliberately? This is in most part down to the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, and his stance on climate change and the rainforest in general. Bolsonaro won the general election last October, although by July his approval rating was already slipping, and it has only worsened with this ongoing disaster. He is seen as a far right leader who campaigned on a platform of relaxing gun laws, opposing abortion, and who has been called the “Trump of the Tropics”. Whilst he claims to love the rainforest, his actions, beliefs and policies have led many to believe that he may not love the rainforest for its natural significance, but more for the exploitation of its natural resources.

He champions those industries who would see the rainforest cut down to turn a profit. Just last week he was caught on video telling chastising IBAMA agents (the main federal agency tasked with enforcing environmental laws) for issuing too many fines. As such enforcement actions have decreased by 20% during the first six months of this year in comparison to the previous years performance. He has tried to remove the rights of the Indigenous peoples of the land, which is becoming harder after a landmark ruling in Ecuador back in May determined that the Ecuadorian government could not auction off the land of the Waorani peoples for oil exploration without their consent, as it had previously sought to do. However, the policies of his which are believed to have directly contributed to the fires currently raging are those around illegal logging, ranching and mining. Bolsonaro encourages these workers to clear their land by lighting ‘controlled’ fires.

For years agriculture has been one of the main economies in Brazil, and many statements Bolsonaro has made have led others to believe that this, along with mining and logging, should be the priority of the rainforest over its enviromental significance. Many farmers in Brazil support this approach and have little regard for the damage that they do or make any effort to offset it. Earlier this month, a group of farmers, loggers and business owners in Novo Progresso announced that they would be setting coordinated fires as a show of force against the enforcement of these environmental laws.

Instead Bolsonaro has accused NGO’s and environmentalists of deliberately starting the fires over budget cuts, his Chief of Staff saying it was a bid to restrict Brazil’s economic growth.

Bolsonaro has not responded as many world leaders would have hoped to pleas to take action to save the rainforest. At the most recent G7 summit French President Emmanual Macron who was hosting the proceedings announced that £18m of aid would be released to assist in fighting the fires. Whilst there were reports at first that Bolsonaro would be accepting the money this soon changed, with Bolsonaro interpreting this as an attempt to colonise the rainforest by Western forces.

Commenting on the G7 offer of aid, Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, told the Globo news website: “Thanks, but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe…Macron cannot even avoid a predictable fire in a church that is part of the world’s heritage, and he wants to give us lessons for our country?”

Foreign minister Ernesto Araujo responded by saying that international mechanisms are already in place in Brazil to help fight deforestation. Unfortunately nobody seems to know what these are, and very little, if anything seems to have been done to try and tackle or control the blaze which is ravaging the rainforest. Aware of the international backlash his stance is having, and potentially the threat it could cause to current and proposed trade agreements, Bolsonaro has now said that he is mobilising the army to help try and put out the fires. Patches of rain are forecast for Brazil although these will most likely have little effect.

Amazonas has declared a state of emergency due to the fires, with thick smoke causing a blackout more than 1,700 miles away in the city of Sao Paulo on Monday 19th of August. This lasted for an hour with the black smoke even being picked up by NASA satellite images.

The Amazon is one of the worlds biggest natural treasures; Brazil boasts the biggest share of the rainforest with 60%, which equals 670 million hectares of forest, and is home to more species than anywhere on the planet. Referred to as ‘the lungs of the earth’, more than 20% of the planets oxygen is created here. The WWF estimates that more than a quarter of the rainforest will be lost by 2030 if deforestation continues at its current rate.

As international pressure mounts on Bolsonaro it is hoped that steps can be taken to not only stop the fires that are currently raging but that changes can be made to the way that the Amazon rainforest is currently being managed to prevent disasters such as this occurring in the future.

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Jessica Howard

Jessica Howard

31 years old, currently living and working in London, UK.

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